Search for bodies at Dozier School to continueby John Kennedy | August 6th, 2013
Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet unanimously agreed Tuesday to allow University of South Florida scientists to continue working on the site of a closed reform school in Florida’s Panhandle, where many former students say the bodies of dozens of dead children may lie buried.
The move by Scott and the Cabinet cleared a hurdle created earlier in the year, when Secretary of State Ken Detzner said his office didn’t have the authority to approve the exhumation of human remains at the now-closed Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.
USF researchers have identified 50 possible graves at the school in an area dubbed Boot Hill. The rudimentary cemetary is in the black section of what had been a segregated reform school through most of the 1960s. Researchers also want to locate another graveyard where white boys were supposedly buried.
“There is no shame in searching for the truth,” said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, an early advocate for continuing the work at Dozier.
Several former students were in the audience Tuesday, including one man Leo Collier, 84, who is believed to be the oldest former resident of the school, which closed in 2011 after more than a century marked by tales of beatings, sexual abuse and neglect by staff.
Collier said he was sent to Dozier at age 12 for skipping school. “All I did was farm work” at Dozier, Collier said.
Another man, 68-year-old Don Stratton, a former truck driver from Gibsonton, said he ran away from home and was “dragged out of the woods and put in Sarasota County jail.”
After six months in county jail, the 13-year-old Stratton was sent to Dozier for three years. Beatings were administered at a shed called the White House.
“The boys they murdered were put in the ground, not even in boxes,” Stratton said. “You wouldn’t even bury your dog like that.”